The First Top-Ranked MBA To Enroll 50% Women Reports A Huge Decline In Women In 2023

No MBA Application Decline For This Top-25 Business School — But Other Areas Suffer

The Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California avoided the MBA application declined that has impacted some of its peers in the top 25 of U.S. B-schools

Back in 2018, USC’s Marshall School of Business made history by becoming the first major business school in the United States to achieve gender parity in its full-time MBA program. It was a watershed moment, a dam-breaker that has pushed women closer each successive year to equal representation in graduate business education.

But five years later, USC is struggling to remain in the conversation, reporting a significant decline in women’s enrollment at the Marshall School — and one that, unlike a similar slide two years ago, can’t be blamed on the coronavirus pandemic. From 52% in 2018, Marshall’s ranks of MBA-seeking women have dropped to just 35% of the MBA Class of 2025 that enrolled this fall — a decline of one-third in half a decade, and lower even than the Class of 2023 that enrolled in the teeth of Covid-19 in fall 2021 (see table below).

While it seems the baton has been passed — The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School this fall reports a third straight year of 50% or more women in its MBA — other top schools’ determined march toward parity has been uneven, with several top schools this fall reporting difficulty in matching their previous high totals of MBA women. Data from half a dozen top B-schools that have yet to officially publish their class profiles (and some from those that have) resists identifying trends, with progress at some and regress at others.

USC MARSHALL BY THE NUMBERS 2019-2023

Stats 2023 2022 2021 2020 2019
Applications 3,166 2,652 2,418 3,159 1,899
Admits 724 658 555 768 568
Class Size 199 190 218 217 214
Acceptance Rate 22.9% 24.8% 23.0% 24.3% 29.9%
Average GMAT 722 732 716 707 708
GRE Percentage 34% 32.6% 31% 25% 29%
GRE Average Score 322.7 321 321 321 320
Average Undergraduate GPA 3.48 3.58 3.60 3.55 3.54
Women 35% 46% 36% 40% 42%
Internationals 41% 41% 34% 22% 31%
URM 20% 24% NA NA NA

IN 1 YEAR, WOMEN’S ENROLLMENT FALLS BY 11 PERCENTAGE POINTS

Until 2023, women had seen gradual (some would say, hopefully, inexorable) success in the battle for equal representation in the top MBA programs. Last year, a record 17 of the 56 member schools of the nonprofit Forté Foundation reached at least 45% women enrolled in full-time MBA programs, up from 10 schools in 2021, two in 2017 and none in 2012. This includes some of the leading Asian and European B-schools, which generally lag their U.S. peers in women’s enrollment. In the U.S. in 2022, 15 of the top 30 B-schools reported 40% or more women in their MBA programs, with 11 of the top 27 seeing progress from 2021 to 2022 — and 19 reporting growth in the number of women in the six MBA cohorts since 2017.

USC Marshall was one of them. After enrolling its historic MBA Class of 2020 with more than 50% women, and earning the praise and envy of MBA admissions teams everywhere, the Marshall School saw declines in female enrollment for three straight intakes, down to 36% in the fall of 2021. But two of those intakes could be explained as products of the coronavirus pandemic, which impacted MBA admissions in unpredictable ways. The view of Covid-19 as culprit seemed validated after USC bounced back big-time with 46% women in the MBA class that enrolled last fall.

From that class, Marshall lost 11 percentage points in its women’s enrollment total in one year. See-saw. Nor do the percentages fully capture the decline, exacerbated by a reduction in Marshall’s class sizes from 221 in 2018 to 199 this fall: In actual numbers, the population of women in its full-time MBA fell from 110 five years ago to just 70 now.

APPS RISE FOR A 3RD STRAIGHT YEAR — TO AN ALL-TIME HIGH

Women were not the only significant change year to year in the Marshall School’s full-time MBA. The Class of 2024 that enrolled last fall raised eyebrows more for their test scores than anything, especially its massive 16-point jump in Graduate Management Admission Test average, to 732 from 716. That huge jump — the biggest one-year increase of any top-25 U.S. B-school in 2022, evidence of a wider trend of GMAT score inflation — vaulted Marshall into the very upper echelons of test scores, behind only three other top-25 schools.

It would be short-lived. This year, the Marshall School came back to earth, dropping 10 points to a class GMAT average of 722. Still, that is the second-highest average in school history. Marshall also saw its undergraduate GPA drop to 3.48 — fully one-tenth of a point, but exactly where it was six years ago in 2017.

But there’s a huge silver lining for USC. Unlike Wharton, Duke Fuqua School of Business, UCLA Anderson School of Management, and others this fall, the Marshall School saw a third straight year of MBA application growth, to 3,166 apps, a nearly 20% jump in one year and up more than 30% since 2021. Marshall’s apps have grown by 67% since before coronavirus; its 2022-2023 total even eclipsed (by seven applications) the school record set in 2020.

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